High-Tech Problem Solvers

Ford built a high-speed bug launcher to test autonomous technology

Ford engineers have thought of a sloppy but ingenious way to test autonomous driving development technology.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Thwack! That distinctive sound of a bug hitting the windshield is something drivers are all too familiar with. While the smear of a bug may impact a driver's visibility for a moment, the effect it could have on an autonomous driving sensor could result in a catastrophic system failure. That's something Venky Krishnan, autonomous vehicle systems core supervisor, Ford Motor Company has to spend time thinking about.

In a new post on Medium, Krishnan describes the extensive efforts Ford is putting into keeping those sensors clean. "We've sprayed dirt and dust onto our self-driving vehicle sensors. We've showered LiDAR sensors with water to simulate rainfall. We created our own synthetic bird droppings and smeared it on camera lenses," he shared.

Ford Bug Launcher Ford's autonomous driving technology prototypes include a collection of cameras, LiDAR and radar that needs to be kept clean.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

But that's not all. Ford enlisted the help of zoologist Mark Hostetler to help them discern which bugs are most likely to make contact with the sensors and how often those interactions happen.

The automaker even developed a bug launcher that allows them to shoot insects at vehicle sensors at high speeds, simulating the way they impact vehicles in the real world.

Ford Bug Cannon GIF Ford has developed a cannon that shoots bugs onto its autonomous vehicle sensors to test how they operate under less than ideal conditions.GIF courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While the solutions are complex (the Ford team has already submitted over 50 patents worth of possible solutions to the issue), the issue may be best remedied by keeping autonomous vehicles from hitting bugs in the first place, according to Krishnan.

A new version of the system is now testing on Ford's third-generation self-driving test vehicle fleet in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Miami-Dade County and Washington, D.C. where the types of bugs and environments resulting in splatter vary greatly.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Honda Insight is one of the Honda models that made this year's list.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Safety is a big concern for shoppers when considering a new vehicle. Every new car sold in America must meet standards mandated by Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, for motor vehicle safety, but not all vehicles are created equal. While airbags, seat belts and crumple zones keep occupants safe in a crash, technologies available in some new vehicles work to prevent the crash itself.

For a vehicle to be named either an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+, it must earn Good ratings (Good is the highest IIHS rating) in each of six crash tests: driver-side and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint & seats. The vehicle must also earn an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests, as well as a Good or Acceptable headlight rating.

For the 2020 model year, the IIHS adds an additional requirement for a vehicle to gain distinction as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. To earn this top award, a vehicle must be available exclusively with Good or Acceptable headlights on all trim variants. This new requirement knocks several previously top-ranked vehicles off the Top Safety Pick+ list.

"The headlight ratings that have been part of our awards criteria in recent years have pushed automakers to pay more attention to this essential equipment," said IIHS President David Harkey. "However, finding vehicles with the right headlights can be a challenge for consumers. We wanted to reward automakers that have removed this obstacle," Harkey noted.

It's important to point out that no trucks made this list. Though IIHS does test trucks, none achieved either Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ status.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the safest new vehicles in America for the 2020 model year — vehicles that achieve the elite IIHS rank of Top Safety Pick+ winner.

2020 Acura RDX

2020 Acura RDX Photo courtesy of Acura

All new last year, the Acura RDX returns to the elite group of safest vehicles in America for the second year in a row. The previous-generation RDX earned the rank of TSP+ for 2016 and 2017, but the compact crossover didn't meet the headlight requirement for 2018. The RDX earns the highest rating for every IIHS crash test, thanks in part to the newest generation of Acura's Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, new high-strength steel door stiffener rings and eight airbags, including driver and front-passenger knee airbags. The RDX also features the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies, including automatic emergency braking and road departure mitigation. New LED headlights are now standard.

2020 Audi A6 and A6 Allroad

2020 Audi A6

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The traditional Audi A6 sedan and Audi A6 Allroad wagon earned honors this year. The A6 hasn't received any significant upgrades for the 2020 model year though features were shuffled throughout the trim levels. The A6 Allroad was new for 2020. Both models comes with a roster of standard driver assistance features including a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking. Buyers can upgrade their model to include a 360-degree camera system (standard on A6 Allroad), adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, intersection crossing assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and night vision technology.

2020 Audi E-Tron

2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The first fully electric model from Audi, the e-tron is a premium 5-seat midsize SUV with an EPA-estimated range of more than 200 miles. For 2020 Audi introduces the sleeker-looking e-tron Sportback, joining the e-tron SUV. The 2019 Audi e-tron SUV is rated as a Top Safety Pick+, but Audi is skipping the 2020 model year for that model. The e-tron employs a new-generation quattro electric all-wheel-drive system that features two potent electric motors — one powering each axle — that adjust the amount of torque delivered to each axle for ideal balance according to driving conditions. The Audi e-tron has the distinction of being the first fully electric vehicle to achieve the Top Safety Pick + ranking. In addition to the e-tron's Good score in the required crash tests, the standard automatic emergency braking operates at speeds up to 52 mph for detecting pedestrians and bicyclists. The system can also bring the vehicle to a full stop when traveling at speeds under 25 mph.

2020 Cadillac XT6

2020 Cadillac XT6 Photo courtesy of Cadillac

An all-new model from Cadillac for the 2020 model year, the XT6 three-row luxury SUV is currently the only American-brand SUV to earn a spot on the Top Safety Pick+ list. The XT6 stands out with a large expressive grille flanked by a choice of bi-function LED projector headlights or performance LED headlights with a three-element projector array, both of which qualify the XT6 for the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ ranking. This stylish new crossover also gets the latest safety technology such as forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, front and rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a rearview camera with remote wash.

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Ford Explorer Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Explorer has been one of the best-selling SUVs in America for decades, but it has never been rated one of the safest in America — until now. Completely new for the 2020 model year, the Explorer comes with Ford Co-Pilot360 — the company's suite of advanced driver-assist features. Co-Pilot360 includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a blind-spot information system, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights. Note that this rating only applies to Explorers built after May 2020 — Ford made structural modifications to improve the performance in small overlap driver's-side crash tests.

2020 Genesis G70

2020 Genesis G70 Photo courtesy of Genesis Motors

The Genesis G70 was first introduced in for the 2019 model year and it hasn't changed much since. Every G70 sold comes with forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and driver attention monitoring. Front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view parking camera system, and adaptive headlights are available.

2020 Genesis G80

Genesis G80 Photo courtesy of Genesis Motors

Like its littler brother the G70, the Genesis G80 received no updates for the 2020 model year (those came in the 2021). The G80 is lauded for having a long list of standard and available safety features. Each G80 comes standard with driver attention monitor, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, a driver attention monitor, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, and a rearview camera. Buyers can get their G80 with adaptive LED headlights, parking sensors, and a surround-view parking camera system.

2020 Genesis G90

2020 Genesis G90

Photo courtesy of Genesis Motors

The Genesis G90 was the first model the company introduced and it's the first one to get a new generation. The redesigned 2020 competes directly with most more expensive luxury large cars and comes out near the top of rankings lists. The model basically includes all the same safety technology as the G80, but standard. The list includes: forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, driver attention monitoring, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, adaptive headlights, blind spot monitoring, a surround-view parking camera system, rear cross traffic alert, lane following assist, highway driving assist, safe exit assist, and lane change assist.

2020 Honda Insight

2019\u20132020 Honda Insight Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The 2019 and 2020 Honda Insight are virtually identical. Honda didn't make any big changes to the fuel-efficient car for the 2020 model year. The company equips every Insight sold with the Honda Sensing suite of safety technology. This includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, and traffic sign recognition. It also comes standard with a rearview camera and driver drowsiness monitoring.

2021 Honda Odyssey

2021 Honda Odyssey Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

The 2021 Honda Odyssey is the only minivan to take home Top Safety Pick+ honors this year. Its inclusion follows a refresh of the current generation, which saw Honda add technology and revise the fascia of the vehicle. Each Odyssey comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite of safety technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, and traffic sign recognition.

2020 Hyundai Nexo

Hyundai Nexo Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

The NEXO remains unique on this list of safest SUVs in America as the only fuel-cell vehicle to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating. The second-generation fuel-cell vehicle from Hyundai, NEXO is a 5-passenger crossover featuring a stylish exterior with swept-back narrow headlights, flush door handles and a sleek roofline. The NEXO employs three separate hydrogen tanks that improve interior space as well as provide room for a large, flat cargo area. NEXO come with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot view monitor as standard equipment.

2020 Lexus ES 350

2020 Lexus ES Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The Lexus ES was fully redesigned for the 2019 model year and hasn't changed much since. Every ES includes the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 suite of technology that includes a pre-collision system, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, adaptive cruise control, low-light pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with assist, daytime cyclist detection. Buyers can upgrade and add blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and parking sensors with automatic emergency braking.

2020 Lexus NX

2020 Lexus NX

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Lexus joined the growing compact luxury SUV segment when it introduced the NX for the 2015 model year. The NX has been a Top Safety Pick+ designee since its introduction, with the exception of the 2018 model year. In addition to earning high scores in the IIHS crash tests, the NX comes with the Lexus Safety System + which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert and intelligent high beams. The NX is available with the first-ever turbocharged engine in a Lexus — a 2.0-liter four cylinder that produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Also available with a hybrid powertrain, the NX 300h is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs in America.

2020 Mazda CX-3

2020 Mazda CX-3

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Introduced for the 2016 model year , the CX-3 remains the smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup. The small crossover gets headlight improvements for 2020 that help it earn the Top Safety Pick+ rating. Mazda CX-3 boasts a dynamic design, signature Mazda sporty driving characteristics and an available sophisticated i-ACTIV AWD system offered with all three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The CX-3 comes equipped with Mazda's i-ACTIVSENSE, which includes a range of advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and adaptive front lighting.

2020 Mazda CX-5

2020 Mazda CX-5 Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Mazda's popular CX-5 crossover has been on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list since 2014, and the redesigned 2017 model continued this success. The CX-5 is available with advanced safety features that include lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and smart brake assist — the latter warning the driver and automatically applying the brakes to avoid or minimize damage from a frontal collision. These items are part of an i-ACTIVSENSE package that also includes high-beam headlight assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

2020 Mazda CX-9

2020 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Mazda's three-row SUV is a recent addition to the Top Safety Pick + list, making it three different Mazda models on this IIHS safe vehicle list. The CX-9 passes all the requirements with a headlight update for all vehicles built after December 2019. Like other Mazdas on this list of safest SUVs in America, the brand's flagship SUV uses radar and cameras to employ a range of advanced safety features — all part of Mazda's i-ACTIVSENSE system. This includes advanced smart city brake support with pedestrian detection, smart brake assist with collision warning, Mazda radar cruise control with stop & go function, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, high-beam headlight assist, an adaptive front lighting system, and traffic-sign recognition.

2020 Mazda Mazda3

Mazda Mazda3 Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

The hatchback and sedan versions of the Mazda3 have both earned honors for the 2020 model year. As a part of its roster of upgrades for the new model year, Mazda has given the Mazda3 more standard safety features, helping it earn a spot on this list. The list isn't as extensive as what you'll find in other vehicles, but it gets the job done: a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, a driver condition monitor, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning.

2020 Mazda Mazda6

2019 Mazda Mazda6

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Like most other Mazdas, the Mazda6 had no major changes for the 2020 model year. It retained its good list of safety features and technology alongside an attractive interior and sleek exterior. Each Mazda6 comes standard with a ane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, pedestrian detection, and adaptive cruise control. Upgrading to a more premium model gets buyers front and rear parking sensors and a surround-view parking camera system.

2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The current Mercedes-Benz C-Class generation is only a few years old, and continues to deliver moderately-priced luxury for German sedan enthusiasts. Buyers of the base model C-Class get forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and pedestrian detection. Moving up the scale will add a variety of safety tech including lane departure warning, evasive steering assist, adaptive headlights, speed limit sign recognition, front and rear parking sensors, lane keep assist, automatic lane change, and auto high beams.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE

Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz updated the GLE SUV last year with advancements in safety, entertainment, connectivity and drivability. The GLE has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since its introduction in 2016, making it one of the safest SUVs in America. Equipped with all the luxury features expected of a Mercedes, the GLE's s standard safety equipment includes Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to monitor the distance to a vehicle in front and will alert the driver while priming the brakes if a crash seems imminent. Also available is Collision Prevention Assist Plus with active brake assist, which will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision. The LED Intelligent Light System features an ultra-wide beam; it has the brightest headlights allowed on a motor vehicle.

2020 Nissan Maxima

2020 Nissan Maxima Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Maxima is a bit long in the tooth at this point, but it's one of the last mass market large cars you can buy in the U.S. It's also the only Nissan to make this list. For the 2020 model year, the company gave every Maxima Nissan Safety Shield 360 technology, which includes automatic high beams, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, a driver attention monitor, and lane departure warning.

2021 Subaru Ascent

2021 Subaru Ascent

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

In 2019 Subaru returned to the 3-row crossover market with its largest production vehicle yet — the all-new Ascent. Built on the company's new platform, Ascent is available in a number of trim levels, all of which come with full-time all-wheel drive and Subaru's suite of safety features (called EyeSight) as standard equipment. The safety suite includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and sway warning. The Ascent also is available with blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking. Note the 2020 Ascent did not earn the highest rating because the crossover's standard headlights did not meet new IIHS requirements. Subaru solved the issue for the 2021 Ascent.

2020 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

2020 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

Subaru introduced a plug-in hybrid version of the Crosstrek last year — the brand's first plug-in for the U.S. market. The Crosstrek Hybrid comes with the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru's innovative driver-assistance system that employs stereo forward-facing cameras as well as other sensors. With EyeSight, the Crosstrek Hybrid is available with automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. In the IIHS front crash prevention tests, the Crosstrek Hybrid performed at the highest level for both vehicle and passenger avoidance. The Crosstrek Hybrid has standard LED projector headlights; however, the non-hybrid does not — which is why the hybrid version is the only Crosstrek on the Top Safety Pick+ list.

2020 Subaru Forester

2020 Subaru Forester Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

All new last year, the Subaru Forester features the roomiest interior ever offered with a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase, more rear-seat legroom and more cargo capacity, as well as improvements in crash protection, comfort, quietness and driving dynamics. EyeSight driver-assist technology is standard on all trim levels, and Forester Touring features DriverFocus safety technology that can alert the driver of fatigue or distraction as well as automatically adjust many driver settings at startup. For 2020 Subaru equips Forester with LED projector headlights, which help elevate it to the rank of Top Safety Pick+ once again.

2020 Subaru Legacy

2020 Subaru Legacy Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

The Subaru Legacy is a very close relative of the Subaru Outback. Both were redesigned for the 2020 model year and make this list. The Legacy, like the Outback, Forester, and Ascent, comes standard with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, a suite of safety tech. The model's roster of standard safety features includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and a rearview camera (some aren't part of EyeSight while others are).

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

There aren't many wagons available in America, but the Subaru Outback — with its perfect score from the IIHS — is arguably the safest wagon on the market. All new for the 2020 model year, Outback rides on Subaru's updated global platform. The Outback has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since 2013, and for 2020 the off-road wagon/crossover continues to score the highest marks in all tests. Standard on all Outbacks is Subaru's innovative EyeSight system, which includes automatic emergency braking as well as an advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering and the new DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, which uses both audio and visual alerts if the drive appears to be fatigued or simply not paying attention.

2020 Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors

While the Tesla Model 3 does not have full self-driving capability (despite what you might read on Twitter), it does have a good amount of safety technology. The standard features list includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, sensors on all sides of the car, forward collision warning, side collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and a rearview camera. Enhanced Autopilot is available and operates similar to Nissan's ProPilot Assist, and requires hands on the wheel.

2020 Toyota Camry

2020 Toyota Camry Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The Toyota Camry didn't change much from 2019 to 2020. It retained its Toyota Safety Sense-P suite of safety and driver assist technology. Every Camry comes standard with adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning. Buyers can upgrade their Camry choice to get blind spot monitoring, a surround-view camera system, and rear cross traffic alert.

2020 Volvo XC90

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Volvo built its reputation creating cars that keep people safe, and for 2020 the flagship XC90 earns a Top Safety Pick + rating. Updated for the 2020 model year, the XC90 is available with a range of safety and driver assistance features. Standard on all Volvos is City Safety, which provides automatic braking and collision avoidance with the ability to detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals such as a moose. Also available is cross-traffic alert with auto brake, as well as an oncoming lane mitigation system that detects if the XC90 has drifted over the lane marker and automatically steers the SUV back where it belongs.

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The EPA-certified range of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E has met Ford's expectations.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford has announced the certification of its all-electric range numbers for its 2021 Mustang Mach-E variants by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The good news for Ford is that the numbers meet their publicly shared expectations.

The EPA-estimated ranges for each of the four models tested:

  • 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Standard-Range RWD - 230 miles
  • 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Extended-Range RWD - 300 miles
  • 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Standard-Range eAWD - 211 miles
  • 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Extended-Range eAWD - 270 miles

"This validation by the EPA comes at a perfect time as the Mustang Mach-E is gearing up to take on the open road," said Darren Palmer, global director, Battery Electric Vehicles, Ford Motor Company.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E The Mustang Mach-E features a plusher interior than what you'll find in the Tesla Model Y. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

There is one remaining model that is being tested. The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E California Route 1 is anticipated to be rated at 300 miles of range by the EPA once officials complete their tests.

There are numerous factors that go into determining the range a vehicle gets in real world driving scenarios. Actual range of the vehicle varies with conditions such as external elements, climate control operations, presence of all-wheel drive, the weight of passengers and cargo, driving behaviors, vehicle maintenance, lithium ion battery age, and the battery's state of health.

The top 300 miles of range is considerably better than most of the electric vehicles on the market today. The 2021 Audi E-Tronhas 222 mile of EPA-estimated range while the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV (259 miles) and 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric (258 miles) have significantly more range. The 2021 Polestar 2 falls between those with 233 miles of range. The 2021 Tesla Model Y gets more - 326 miles - while the 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge gets far less - 208 miles. The 2022 Volkswagen ID.4 has been certified to get 250 miles of rage.

The forthcoming Nissan Ariya's range has yet to be announced but is expected to rival the Mustang Mach-E.

Customer deliveries for the Mustang Mach-E will start in December in the United States.

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